the Disillusioned kid: Home From Home, Part 3.
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Thursday, October 28, 2004

Home From Home, Part 3.

The saga of the Chagos Islanders now seeking accommodation in the UK (blogged about previously here and here) continues.

The Scotsman reported on Monday that Nicholas Antoine, 25, had won temporary accommodation from Reigate and Banstead Borough Council in Surrey. This will be available until next Monday in order to give him time to launch legal action in order to be housed permanently in the UK as a homeless person. A further 10 islanders, including women and children, have been offered shelter and assistance by West Sussex County Council because of their care needs. Nonetheless the group of islanders who came to the UK on October 8 (the report suggests this group numbers "about 40", but reports from the time put the figure at 45) apparently "spent the weekend living rough at nearby Gatwick Airport" having initially stayed in the lobbies of the bed and breakfast hotels were they had been put up when they first came to the country.

Human rights lawyers apparently "hope [High Court Judge] Mr Justice Silber?s decision will lead to temporary accommodation being offered to all the islanders and save the expense of obtaining shelter through a number of High Court cases, all raising the same issue, paid for out of public funds." Lawyers are also seeking judicial review of Reigate and Banstead council?s decision in the previous week that did not have a duty to accommodate the islanders as they were not ?habitually resident? in the UK.

The Scotsman carried another story on the matter on Wednesday when Conservative Epsom and Ewell MP Chris Grayling raised the issue at question time:
Former residents of the island of Diego Garcia who were dispossessed under a previous Labour government have started arriving in the United Kingdom and are currently being housed at the expense of the residents of Reigate and Banstead in Surrey.

Thousands more could be on their way.

Will you explain why my constituents in one small Surrey borough should be paying substantial housing and legal costs as a result of this and can you also explain why appeals to the Deputy Prime Minister for help in this have so far gone unanswered?
Ignoring the ramifications of his question and its response for the timebeing, it's phrasing merits consideration. Grayling's emphasis on the dispossesion being the responsibility of "a previous Labour government," while strictly true, is misleading. None of the Conservative governments in the intervening period have done anything to rectify the injustice, indeed none of them even admitted that claims that the islanders had been merely transient labourers were untrue. This fiction was maintained until very recently when the Foreign Office quietly conceded that the island had been permanently inhabited for several generations prior to the expulsion.

His assertion that "thousands more could be on their way," is simply nonsensical. The entire Chagossian population numbers something in the order of 2,000 and only a handful of them intend to come to the UK. The British Indian Ocean Territory Islanders Movement suggested when the last group of islanders arrived that more were hoping to come, but numbers are likely to be in the tens rather than the hundreds, let alone thousands. Apart from anything else, most of the islanders have little money to spend on the journey. Presumably Grayling's concern is fuelled by reading too many Daily Mail headlines about the country being "flooded" by asylum seekers, or other undesirables.

In response to the question, Tony Blair claimed that Government help could set a precedent, telling Grayling, ?I will look into this very carefully and get back to you but I think the concern has been that if we start providing funding in these circumstances there is no reason why we shouldn?t across the board.? Quite apart from the moral requirement that the British Government do all it can to put right the injustice done to the Chagossians, Blair's response is logically flawed. Precedent is predicated on the idea that like should be treated as like - as Blair, a former lawyer is surely aware. Which poses the question, how many other British citizens (all the islanders have British passports) have been forced from their homes, prevented from returning, dumped on a distant island and left to rot in poverty all at the hands of succesive British Government? If there are none then providing the islanders with accomodation hardly sets a precedent.

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